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Monday, 17 November 2014

Writing – research – espionage, brainwashing

Maintaining the theme of the Cold War, I thought it appropriate to take a very brief look at brainwashing employed in espionage. This is a massive, controversial subject and has its place in both the real world of spies and in fiction. In The Prague Papers, my heroine Tana Standish is put in harm’s way and her psychic abilities are in jeopardy through mind-bending techniques.

Sensory deprivation

Early MI6 studies at Porton Down of administering LSD to subjects, often serving volunteer personnel, suggested that not only was the drug mind-altering but it tended to impose sensory deprivation on the subject. MI6’s LSD experiments ran from the early 1950s; eventually, its used became recreational, fuelling the counter-culture movements of the 1960s.

There were other sensory deprivation techniques, notably immersing a subject completely in water – with breathing apparatus; they’re blindfolded, their ears are covered, and there is no light whatsoever.

At the end of such sessions, individuals were not capable of making decisions and open to suggestion. The mainstream novel The Mindbenders by James Kennaway (1963) concerns the scientists involved in these experiments. ‘We want to know what happens to him if he sees nothing, feels nothing, tastes nothing, hears nothing, and smells nothing. We want to know what happens to the body and particularly to the Central Nervous System when a man is put into complete isolation…’ – p34. It’s an engrossing human story, and quite moving too.

The book became a film in the same year and starred Dirk Bogarde and Mary Ure.

My ex-library copy lost some of its lettering for some odd reason!

Reprinted in 2014
One of the most famous novels that uses this isolation technique is The Ipcress File by Len Deighton (1962). ‘… the water tank… You mask the subject’s eyes and fit him with breathing apparatus, then suspend him face down in a tank of blood heat water… completely disorientated and subject to anxiety and hallucination…’ – p203.  In short, suggestible.



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